POLICE in the North East are being forced to wait to relay information as they compete for airtime on the new communications system.
Wangaratta’s D24 communications unit was closed in November and all communications were shifted to the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority centre at Ballarat.
Wodonga and Wangaratta stations were combined with Shepparton, Benalla and Wallan, which is more than 263 kilometres away.
More police were using the same radio channel and several North East police officers, who do not wish to be named, said it can be “bedlam”.
“You can imagine the frustration at the volume of traffic,” one said.
“If two members transmit at once, you have to wait your turn and everyone gets rather anxious.”
Anxious, they said, because in a matter of seconds a situation can change and officers’ lives could be at risk.
They said officers have waited up to 10 minutes just to tell the ESTA operators they were knocking off because they don’t want to cut-in over more important jobs.
Some said they had given up relaying that information.
It can affect drivers who are pulled over for car checks as they are forced to wait longer.
The officers checking details wait for more urgent incidents to be finished before talking over the radio.
They said each division should really have its own communications system.
The problem has been acknowledged with an extra sergeant placed on every shift in Wangaratta and Wodonga to monitor the radio.
They are ensuring welfare checks and situation reports are being done, as well as ensuring back-up is available.
There’s also been a “split the channel” trial where, for example, Wodonga’s radio communications are moved to another channel that has more air space.
Even this has had problems, police said, as a number of requests to split the channel for operational safety have been ignored.
Eastern region Superintendent Paul O’Halloran said some members have expressed concerns about the increased traffic.
“We’re reviewing this to ensure those concerns are addressed,” Supt O’Halloran said.
“Members’ safety is our No.1 priority.”
Police Association secretary Greg Davies said there were always going to be “teething problems” when communications were transferred
“But obviously anything that unnecessarily jeopardises safety of officers is unacceptable — not just to us but to the general public as well,” Mr Davies said.
“We’re keenly interested in the efforts that are being undertaken.”